DIGVIJAY Singh was left in no doubt. Narasimha Rao was not amused when he openly associated with the rebels, echoing their demand for Rao's resignation as Congress chief. Now, he would have to pay the price, even if that meant putting in peril the Congress Government headed by him in Madhya Pradesh.
When Rao told Digvijay in Delhi that he would have to act against the 13 ministers who worked against the party's official candidates in the recent Lok Sabha elections, the Chief Minister pleaded leniency as such an extreme step would only help the BJP. Rao was unrelenting.
Digvijay called an emergency meeting of his 47-member Council of Ministers on July 17 and obtained an en masse resignation. He'd complied, but so emphatically that it became a statement of defiance. Its thunder stolen, Delhi was left feeling snubbed. For, AICC General Secretary Sudhakarrao Naik, "under instruction" from Rao, had just got a peremptory letter faxed to Digvijay ordering disciplinary action.
In a rather gratuitous emphasis on well-known rules, the faxed commandment said the dismissal of Hazarilal Raghuvanshi, Charandas Mahant and Indrajit Patel (all pro-Arjun Singh), Mahendra Singh Kalukhera, Balendu Shukla and Ramniwas Rawat (pro-Scindia) and Kamal Nath supporter Harbans Singh, and the suspension of six others had to be followed by a show-cause notice returnable in 10 days.
The Chief Minister had reason to suspect Delhi's motives. Back in June, Rao had refused to take action against the 13 when a state party delegation had met him. But Digvijay's outburst during the June 14 meeting of the extended working committee in Delhi and his subsequent interview to Outlook, where he demanded that Rao quit one post, changed his equations with the central leadership.
Digvijay was in a defiant mood. He insisted on the to-be-sacrificed ministers' right to defend themselves before the high command and forced Naik to acknowledge this. Also, he pointed out there was no rule that demanded that they be sacked if they were willing to resign.
But for Delhi, ejecting them from the ministry was not enough. Since the ministers belonged to Arjun, Scindia and Kamal Nath camps, the only way to wedge a gap between the CM and them was by causing their humiliation at Digvijay's hands.
With Digvijay enfeebled by the battle, dissidence in the state got a fillip. A prominent anti-Digvijay leader went to the extent of proposing an alliance with the BJP to get rid of the Chief Minister, arguing that his presence was more 'harmful' to the party. Coupled with this was the charge that he was cooperating closely with Rao-baiters Arjun Singh and Madhavrao Scindia. Digvijay, who banks on the support of 11 BSP MLAs, is clearly walking on thin ice.
By not kowtowing to the high command's diktat, he has made his point emphatically. Now he is watching, like most dissidents, Rao's fate in his trial on corruption charges and the CBI probe.